Monday, 1 February 2010

How To Not Worry

What I find peculiar about people is that they spend a lot of time worrying about what might happen in the future, but never for a moment contemplate that its’ only apparent certainty is death. This means that they waste a lot of time worrying about things that never actually happen, and are completely unprepared for bereavement or their mortality.

In my Practice I come across many clients traumatised by their past, and even though they are now free from those terrible circumstances, they are haunted by it as if it was still happening, or going to happen again. In fact, most people who are troubled, at this particular moment right now are actually safe. They are not in danger of losing anything at this moment. It is the possibility of things going wrong that keeps people up at night, and yet oddly they never consider the fact that everything they do will come to nothing anyway, due to the simple fact that you will grow old and die. Anything you gain in this life, you will ultimately lose, and everything you do, you will eventually be unable to do.

You might begin to see that if you take life as competition, the world is a pretty mean place. In fact, there are plenty of people who will willingly tell you just that. They argue that life is a savage competition that is really about the survival of the species, and the best the individual can do is struggle and fight to get everything you can to enjoy while you can before you get too old and die.

From when we are start going to school we are sold this philosophy. You need to do well and work hard to pass your exams, you need to get a good job, you need a promotion, you need to save for your retirement, then you need to hang on for as long as possible. Some people who swallow this argument wholesale find themselves in middle age doing a job they hate surrounded by people they don’t like and the terrible feeling they’ve missed out.

Folks, if you really believe that this is life, I feel truly sorry for you, because it is in fact a terrible terrible lie, it’s a universal delusion that’s spread from generation to generation and only really exists in people’s heads. Some people go on believing it out of fear of disappointment. They want absolute zero risk, so they dare not risk believing anything more positive, in case it’s not true!

If you have an open mind and would like to entertain the idea that all this worry and anxiety over stuff that might happen is unnecessary, then listen on, because this could be the start of truly living life rather than surviving it. First, if you like to play safe, there is in life only one certainty, and I’m not talking about death or taxes here, and that is consciousness. You are quite clearly conscious because you can hear this, you are aware of it. It is the one thing that you can be in no doubt whatsoever.

However, after that everything else is uncertain and is based purely on experience. The so-called certainty of death, is not certain at all, it is just a universally common experience. We all experience that everyone and everything for that matter seems to stop being around after a while. But when you start looking at what death is and what life is, it all starts to get a bit confusing. You may not be aware that scientists cannot agree exactly what life is – there is no agreed definition for life, because whenever they try, there’s some annoying living organism that doesn’t fit it!

The reality is that through your senses your consciousness receives data. Our minds then decide what that data means. Everything you’ve decided is reality, is the way it is, has absolutely no foundation in solid fact at all – there are no true facts other than consciousness itself. What you call fact and reality is only what your mind has decided. There is no proof there is actually anything out there at all but your consciousness experiencing things. Everything you have decided exists might be nothing but a dream for all you really know.

This is actually a good thing – it means all that life’s a bitch then you die stuff is purely an idea that you can take or leave. It all adds up to nothing more than a certain interpretation of experience. So then, if from your own point of view your life is whatever you decide it is, why not go for a way that brings you peace of mind rather than anxiety? Obviously it needs to be a way that fits with how you experience life, and I’m pleased to tell you that there is such a way that does not require you to make huge leaps of faith or swallow whole big books of philosophical and religious dogma.

Let’s go back for a minute and look at the big picture of life. Your life, and your life is the only one that you experience, is not a competition. You will experience competition in your life, but that does not make your life a competition. You will experience washing in your life, but you wouldn’t argue that life is about washing.

Of all the experiences you encounter, your life is actually most like that of the song or a dance or a performance. The point of a song is not the end, the point of a song is simply to connect with the experience. You might have your favourite bits in it, but those bits only work in the context of the whole song. Life is about now, your experience right now, and about making a difference to that experience. Just by being conscious, you have the ability to change experience by what you say, do and think. Whose experience? Yours of course. Everything you’re thinking saying and doing is changing your experience moment by moment. Put another way, moment by moment you are creating your environment.

So then, the only point in time that really matters is right now. If you want to stop worrying, the first thing you need to do is be focused on what you’re doing right now. To do that you must make the distinction between your awareness and your focus.

You don’t really have a lot of choice over what enters your awareness. Your awareness is like an open field with no fences. Anything can wander in and out of it and you can’t really do a lot about it. Thoughts and feelings sights, sounds, smells and ideas can crop at random and just as randomly vanish. You have to accept this. Your awareness is a public not a private place. What you can control is your focus. Of all the things in your awareness, you can give approximately 2% your focus. With your will, you can choose that on which you focus. The difference is very important to understand. Once something has your attention, it sets off a whole chain reaction in your mind, beyond your conscious control. Your mind begins by giving it a label. When you experience confusion, it’s because your mind can’t work out what the right label is, paralysing the whole process.

The label once assigned can be good, bad, threatening, annoying, pleasurable and so on. Having decided what it means, the brain sends out a whole raft of signals and hormones that gear the body up for dealing with the situation. If you focus on a worry, your body is gearing up for a threat that is not where you are right now and may never happen at all. Worry often enough and you are permanently in the wrong state of mind and body and actually make the eventuality more likely!

So the question then becomes, how do we make sure our attention latches on to the helpful and useful rather than the unhelpful? How do we stop those worries which we latch on to by default hogging our attention and all that mental and physical energy?

The first step is to recognise what kind of thought you’re having. Generally you know full well whether the thought is helpful or unhelpful, if it’s not helpful, simply say to yourself this simple affirmation: I REFUSE TO TAKE OWNERSHIP OF THIS THOUGHT. Now bring your right thumb into contact with your right middle finger and focus on the feeling of the touch. The focusing on the touch is very important - simply holding finger and thumb in place without focus doesn't do anything. When you focus, then you find the unhelpful thought is locked out.

As a general rule, at any specific time, something should have your attention, and if you don’t decide it yourself by act of will, your mind will decide for you! Sadly, an untrained mind left to itself doesn’t make good decisions, simply because no one has taught it. Most people with an open mind don’t really need a lot else to be successful. If you are focused on the task in hand, know why you’re doing it and know what you want to do with your life, no great philosophical or spiritual revolution is needed.

That said, many of the clients I see have very deeply-rooted negative beliefs about themselves. In this case there is no substitute for seeing a therapist one-to-one to start seeing the world in a different way. But for everyone, the simple technique of being careful where you place your attention will make a big difference to how much you worry. When a negative thought tries to hijack your attention say to yourself. I REFUSE TO TAKE OWNERSHIP OF THIS THOUGHT. Now bring your right thumb into contact with your right middle finger and focus on the feeling of the touch. I use these techniques every day and they work for me. Why not try it out for a day and see how you get on. Even better, drop me an e-mail and tell ME how you got on. I’d love to hear from you! I wish you a worry-free week.

No comments: